Ontario Online offers positive changes for post-secondary

The Ontario government is set to launch Ontario Online, a $42-million program focused on expanding online learning initiatives for university and college students, in 2015.

The $42-million will be obtained through startup funding to ensure Ontario Online will be run as an independent and not-for-profit enterprise by colleges and universities.  The endeavour, while optional, elects the educational bodies that participate to give credit for any and all courses approved and available on the database.

“I think this is a good idea because it opens up opportunities and is convenient. It will require self-motivation time management skills,” said Ashley, an undergraduate student in the recreation and business program at the University of Waterloo who is required to take most of her required business courses at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Howard, an alumnus of the urban planning program echoed similar praise, saying that “[it] gives students the opportunity to expand their education possibilities and will create a more even playing field in accessing education, limiting expenses in an already expensive environment.”

As reported in the <em>Globe and Mail</em>, in 2010, Ontario&rsquo;s colleges and universities had 500,000 registrations combined and 18,000 online courses.&nbsp; In 2011, Ontario&rsquo;s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities released a comprehensive survey of online offerings in its post-secondary institutions where online course registrations constituted 11 per cent of all post-secondary course registrations.

UW has a strong role in technology-enabled learning and currently offers in excess of 240 online courses through the Centre for Extended Learning.&nbsp; With plans to retain this leadership role moving forward, Catherine Newell Kelly, the director of the Centre for Extended Learning, expressed excitement about recognition from the ministry in the importance of online learning.

&ldquo;The university absolutely plans on participating,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Technology-enabled learning is an effective learning experience within a supported environment; an initiative, no part of which is done without heavily supported faculty members.&rdquo;

Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, hosted a Google Hangout last week as part of the public announcement, saying, &ldquo;We need Waterloo&rsquo;s experience; we need Waterloo&rsquo;s expertise &mdash; and technological expertise as well as part of Ontario Online &mdash; to ensure that it succeeds. So we&rsquo;re looking to the University of Waterloo to be one of our leaders.&rdquo;

Feds and OUSA representative Adam Garcia said the movement is welcomed as a &ldquo;positive step [and that] technology-enabled learning is a growing field in higher education [that] enables greater accessibility for students&rdquo; and sees its affordability as an added positive.

While this project will undoubtedly diversify the courses available to students, it also raises important concerns for degree integrity; the number of courses a student can take from an institution other than their own and what that implies for the name on the degree.

&ldquo;There needs to be a balance between what students desire and what can be achieved&rdquo; said Garcia.&nbsp;

Online Ontario, from the perspective of students and administration alike, has in its conceptual stages garnered a lot of positive support.&nbsp; And while the fine print on this discussion has yet to be magnified, Ontario Online is an active endeavor that will undoubtedly change the face of learning. &nbsp;


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